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Weary Venezuelans adapt to more nationwide power cuts

Weary Venezuelans adapt to more nationwide power cuts
The sun sets over Caracas, Venezuela on March 26, 2019. Much of Venezuela remained without electricity Tuesday. (Natacha Pisarenko / Associated Press)

Venezuelans reacted with despair and resourcefulness on Tuesday as nationwide power cuts closed schools and businesses, paralyzing a nation that was only starting to recover from its worst blackouts earlier this month.

The new outages, which began Monday, forced people to follow now-familiar routines: scour neighborhoods for food in the few shops that were open or seek out the few spots where they could find a signal on their cellphones and get in touch with family and friends.

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The collapse of the power grid was yet another setback for a country whose oil reserves made it one of Latin America's wealthiest decades ago.

“Venezuela doesn't stand a chance anymore,” said Johnny Vargas, a frustrated restaurant worker who said he wishes he could leave the country. “There is no life here. People can't work anymore; we can't do anything.”

In Caracas, the capital, lights flickered in various districts, raising hopes and then dashing them as people once again reflected on divergent explanations from the government of President Nicolas Maduro, which alleged sabotage, and the U.S.-backed opposition, which said state corruption and incompetence are to blame.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido and the U.S. say allegations of sabotage are an attempt to deflect attention from government failures.

Jose Aguilar, an expert on the Venezuelan electrical grid, said images of a blaze shared by the government as well as information from engineers there indicate the fire began inside one of three crucial transformers near the Guri dam, which provides most of the country's electricity. He attributed the blaze to neglect, saying equipment that facilitates an electrical current's passage was not regularly maintained.

Vice President Delcy Rodriguez said schools and industries would be suspended for a second day Wednesday as officials work to restore electricity.

After the last blackouts started on March 7, the situation became increasingly desperate for many Venezuelans who lost access to water because pumps failed without electricity. Looters ransacked hundreds of businesses in the city of Maracaibo. The blackouts eased nearly a week later, but many areas had only intermittent power even after the government said the problem was solved.

The new outage appeared to have affected the majority of the 23 states in Venezuela, whose steep economic decline contributed to the flight of more than 3 million people, or one-tenth of the population, to other countries as the crisis escalated.

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